Title: Grammar in flux: Middle English as the cradle of the ‘modern’ absolute construction
Authors: van de Pol, Nikki
Cuyckens, Hubert
Issue Date: 6-Jun-2015
Conference: SHEL edition:9 location:Vancouver date:04-07 June 2015
Abstract: The English absolute construction (AC) (1) is a non-finite construction which consists of two core elements: a (pro-)nominal subject and a predicate. The AC may, but need not, be introduced by a preposition; in the latter case it is called augmented (2-3). ACs express additional background information of an adverbial or elaborating nature (elaboration in (1), condition in (2) and anteriority in (3)).
(1) The girl was pale and intense, her expression revealing nothing. (BNC,1991)
(2) With you with us, they'll 've won the war before we've finished the movie.(KU Leuven drama corpus, 1971)
(3) And, after mass done, every clerk went their procession … (PPCEME, 1550s)
A preliminary study of the English AC from Old to Present-day English based on corpora such as YCOE, PENN and BNC has established that Middle English (ME) constitutes a turning point in the AC’s history, as this period marks:
a. the emergence of new, quasi-coordinate ACs (replaceable by an and-coordinated finite clause, as in (1)) (Author & Anonymous 2013)
b. the increasing range of predicate types (with the addition of AdjPs, AdvPs, PrepPs and infinitives)
c. a boom in augmentor types (argued by Visser 1972 but so far not fully corroborated by the preliminary data)
The importance of these developments has been insufficiently recognized, partly due to data scarcity. In the available literature (Visser 1972, Kisbye 1991, Kohnen 2004, Ross 1893), the ME period is under-researched and the claims made are largely descriptive and based on a limited dataset. It is the purpose of this paper to revisit the above developments using a more extensive ME dataset drawn from corpora such as PPCME2, LEON, the Innsbruck Prose Corpus and LAEME. Specific attention will be given to:
i. the role of case loss and semantic bleaching of the AC’s originally strong temporal meaning (Timofeeva 2010) in the emergence of quasi-coordinate ACs – addresses development (a)
ii. the role of semantic analogy in the development of novel predicate types; e.g. a past participle expressing a (resultant) state (as in, 'with swords drawn') may, in combination with the AC’s subject nominal, allow replacement by an AdjP/NP/PrepP on the basis of their shared ‘state’ semantics (as in, 'her husband dead') – addresses development (b)
iii. the role of case loss and analogy with adverbial prepositional phrases in the expansion of augmentor types (2-3) – addresses development (c)
iv. the role of the emerging verbal gerund in the subsequent loss of most augmentors (in Modern English) as well as the reasons for the increasing frequency of the with-augmentor (2) and its ultimate constructionalization (Traugott & Trousdale 2013) into a semantically empty AC-marker (Author & Anonymous 2014) – further addresses development (c)

It is expected that this study will lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms of change underlying the AC's development and that it will provide a crucial missing link in the development of the AC from Old English to Modern English.

Author and Anonymous. 2013.
Author and Anonymous. 2014.
Kisbye, T. 1971. An historical outline of English syntax. Aarhus, Denmark: Akademisk Boghandel.
Kohnen, Thomas. 2004. Text, textsorte, sprachgeschichte: Englische Partizipial- und Gerundialkonstruktionen 1100 bis 1700. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.
Ross, C. H. 1893. 'The absolute participle in Middle and Modern English'. PMLA 8.3. 245-302.
Timofeeva, O. 2010. Non-finite constructions in Old English with special reference to syntactic borrowing from Latin. Helsinki: Société Néophilologique.
Traugott, Elizabeth Closs and Trousdale, Graeme. 2013. Constructionalization and Constructional Changes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Visser, Frederikus Theodorus. 1973. An historical syntax of the English language. Leiden: Brill.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Functional and Cognitive Linguistics: Grammar and Typology (FunC), Leuven

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